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How Richard Madden Brought Prince Charming To Life

The Game of Thrones alum tells BuzzFeed News how he transformed into Prince Charming for Disney's Cinderella.

Posted on March 10, 2015, at 6:55 p.m. ET

Walt Disney
Walt Disney

Though the producers of Disney's new live-action Cinderella were confident they found their Prince Charming in Richard Madden, the Game of Thrones alum himself was frightened by the inherent responsibility of playing one of the most iconic fairy tale characters of all time.

"It was terrifying," he told BuzzFeed News during an interview at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills. "Everyone has an idea of who the prince is and it's like, people were going to think, You're wrongly cast, or, He's not my idea of a prince!"

But watching the 1950 Disney animated movie helped calm Madden's nerves. "I realized we know nothing about him. We don't even know his name," he said. "So I could start from scratch and build a character who is first and foremost a son, a solider, and a friend as well as a prince. I got to make a real young man."

And here's how Madden — with various technicians across multiple disciplines — accomplished that in five simple steps.

1. Build the foundations of a good guy.

Walt Disney

Madden clearly had the opportunity to create a three-dimensional character, thanks to the script, which not only fleshed out the prince's relationship with his father (Derek Jacobi), but also gave Prince Charming a name: Kit. "You got to see him as a son, you got to see their banter, and the sense of humor they have with one another. I tried to forget I was playing a prince and just played Kit," Madden said. "I wouldn't have been interested in the movie otherwise. I think that old-fashioned view of a damsel in distress where a man saves the day doesn't work — and it's not a good message for kids. I had to make a character that is worthy of Cinderella's [Lily James] affections."

A big part of building Kit's character came from establishing his history — even if little of it is actually seen on screen. "It all started with figuring out where the prince has been for the last five years," Madden said. "He's been at war. OK, what kind of guy was he? Was he at the back? At the front? On horseback? Was he down in the trenches with the men? I started to build all those things in with [director Kenneth Branagh]. Then also trying to build in a sense of humor and self-awareness of his own privilege that would, hopefully, dispel any sense of arrogance you felt with him."

2. Go to any lengths necessary to perfect the hair.

Walt Disney

Before filming began, every aspect of Kit's princely aesthetic was dissected during an intense two-day screentest, beginning with his hair. "They wanted to keep me different from Rob Stark, so it couldn't be just another curly mop," Madden said of the regal character he previously played on HBO's Game of Thrones. "So my hair was chemically straightened on a weekly basis. It smelled gross."

Madden's hair also needed to be longer when filming started, so extensions had to be employed, a 16-hour process that was spread over two days. "I just sat there while they glued in three strands of hair at a time, and then you go to bed and you've got all these tiny little glue dots on your scalp, so you can't sleep and you're constantly finding bits of your hair everywhere," Madden said. "But it was kind of nice because on Game of Thrones, it was like, let's get you as dirty as possible. But on Cinderella, they were like, 'Can I have your hand? I'm just going to do a quick manicure.' And it's like, all right! I was more prim than my girlfriend."

3. Remember that clothes make the man.

Walt Disney

Three-time Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell (for 1998's Shakespeare in Love, 2004's The Aviator, and 2009's The Young Victoria) was tasked with creating Kit's regal wardrobe, which had to look amazing, be functional, and ensure the film's PG rating.

"I wear skinny jeans but that was taking things another step further," Madden said with a laugh of the skintight pants Kit wears in the film. "You feel very self-conscious because everything is very revealing." That's why Madden had to try on many different jockstraps in an effort to mask any sort of bulge — a step in the pre-production process he was entirely unaware of. "You learn something new on every film," he added.

But it was all worth it because Kit's costumes continually reminded Madden of his character's stature. "The costume affects your posture, affects your walk, how you hold yourself, and how you breathe," he said. "The costumes make you deliver. You can't slouch in those things. They make you want to stand up straight and have that regalness about you. The collar on that jacket, it comes up to your throat, so if you slouch, it cuts into you. It's like a reminder to keep it strong, keep it straight."

4. Emphasize your strengths...

Walt Disney
Walt Disney

Since Madden had previously decided that Kit was a soldier, it's logical that he would be an excellent horseback rider and swordsman — a set of skills the script depicted in a pair of dazzling scenes. And luckily, Madden was familiar with both disciplines.

"I could ride well before, but I wanted to ride really well, especially for the first scene where we kind of dance on those horses," he said. "I was doing a lot of sword fighting and I did a lot of horse training — dressage and jumps and stuff like that to get sharp. The sword fighting comes to me more naturally and horse riding I just enjoy, so that doesn't seem like work."

5. ...And embrace your weaknesses.

Walt Disney

While the fencing and equestrian work didn't present much of a challenge for Madden, the actor did struggle with a complex dance sequence that serves as a centerpiece for one of the film's most important moments: the ball where Cinderella and Kit "meet" for the first time.

"I'm not a naturally gifted dancer, nor do I enjoy dancing," Madden admitted. "But I think the prince would enjoy it and he would be very good at it, so that was three to four days of training a week for two months. That's what took up most of my time. The dancing was tough. Especially because I was not only dancing, but the prince is leading Cinderella, so you've got to be the one that really knows what you're doing."

And Cinderella's epic, but expansive, ball gown made matters even more difficult. "There were three people in that dance: me, Cinderella, and the dress," Madden said. "There was a lot going on. The toughest part was negotiating the dress. That's why I trained so much, so I could get on set and the dancing would be second nature so I could focus on acting with Lily."

And here's the end result:

Walt Disney

"I grin from ear to ear when I watch the film," Madden says of Cinderalla. "It's better than I could have imagined. It still makes me feel joyous and happy and emotional and it still moves me. I'm proud of this and really excited to share it with people."

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